Someone in the water is probably what most boaters dread, and something which all training courses teach and practise is how to return the boat to the casualty. Something that I feel personally, is that far less time is spent actually going through how to get them back out of the water.
Last year we had a really scary incident in the marina when two canoeist came though the bridge on a strong flood tide and one got caught by the strength of the tide and got jammed against the holding dock pontoon. The canoe itself was being pushed under the pontoon and the canoeist was being forced under the water by the canoe. Just by chance I happened to see it, rushed over and managed to grab one of her arms before she and the boat were fully under. Another boater on the pontoon came to assist me and what followed was over 10 minutes of gently easing her out of the canoe against the incredibly strong tide. At this point she was totally exhausted and was gobsmacked when I said we were going to push her under while holding on to her. This we did but with good reason as when she popped up just like a cork, we pulled like made and dragged her onto the pontoon. What it highlighted for me was the difficulties of getting someone out rather than actually getting to them. Admittedly away from a pontoon they would not get trapped by the tide in the same way, but we had the massive advantage of a solid pontoon with plenty of room rather than a rocking boat to work from.
So next time you are afloat have a ponder, if it happened you can practise how to get back, but how would you get them out? Remember if they aren’t wearing a lifejacket the cold even on a hot day will quickly sap any energy they have. A lifejacket also gives some good strong points to pull on.
The push down and pull technique works well and I have used it extensively when using Ribs as safety boats as the freeboard is generally much lower, and the boat is a lot softer to be pulled against. You have a choice of facing the casualty towards or away from the boat, facing inwards makes it easier for them to help themselves but their lifejacket or buoyancy aid can get in the way. One little tip, it’s really nice to warn the casualty what you intend to do, as being dunked under can come as quite a surprise!
A line with a loop in the end, which you can throw can really aid getting them alongside, now make the line off on a cleat and use the loop as a step below the water. You can pull on the upper body to help get them back on board.
Simplest can be the bathing ladder, this can be relatively straight forward once they are by it and if they have the strength, the line above really helps with this.
Some larger boats have a hydraulic platform which you can lower, now float the person on and the raise it back up. You need to know does yours only work with the engines off? If there is any swell or waves it puts a lot of strain on the mechanism as the twist on the platform from the weight of the sea as the boat rolls can potentially damage the mechanism.
If you carry a tender you could launch it, as the freeboard is much lower so at least you can get them out of the water.
Even consider launching the liferaft and drag them into that.
Do consider any swell or waves present, as boats are hard things and a bathing platform can be a dangerous place for the casualty if there is any chance of the casualty’s head going underneath it.
The key element in all these things is get them out of the cold sea as quickly as possible as cold shock and continued immersion saps their energy and potential life so quickly.
Lastly a person in the water is potentially a life threatening situation, so if in any doubt call a Mayday. Have a ponder, even have a practise, best of all stay safe and enjoy the season.
To view some ideas on MOB Recovery click here to watch the RNLI videos.